Small Firm Bench Strength
Recently, a frequent Linkedin poster wrote that small firms provide a great resource because they are lower cost. This Linkedin post was timely because it is this very type of discussion about small firms, along with the feedback our profession has been getting from in-house counsel about “where is the value, where is the creativity, where is the diversity in our outside lawyers,” that motivated me and my blog cohorts to start this blog. We intend to write about how the legal profession has evolved to enable small firms to deliver capability, efficiency, creativity, diversity, and value to our clients. We plan to talk about the legal profession from our positions as partners in small firms and as entrepreneurs who started our own businesses.
To start the discussion, I must say that while I welcome the recognition that small firms provide a great resource, I disagree that lower fees form the basis for why clients should choose smaller firms.
At the Chambers-ranked boutique where I practice, we do not compete on the basis of lower fees. We do not sell ourselves as the “cheaper firm.” What we offer, instead, is a focus on the client (whether corporate or individual), an ability to bring big-firm training and high-level government experience and skills to a more tailored representation, and a nimbleness in creating billing arrangements that work for clients’ needs without layers of approvals on alternative billing arrangements often imposed at other firms.
By way of a case in point. If a client decides it needs, or we recommend, a 50-state survey, I can set a flat fee for that survey, offer it to the client, and make it happen – basically in minutes. After 25 years of practice, I have a sense of what amount of time it will take for an associate to conduct the research, for me to review the research, and for any follow-up. My proposal does not have to go through a group and/or department chair, a finance review, or other approvals. And, meanwhile, the work can be underway rather than the fee under review.
Sometimes, I am asked, whether smaller firms have the “bench strength” that Big Law offers. The answer to this question depends on the matter, and the firm. However, one point I make that resonates with in-house counsel is that just because a firm has hundreds or thousands of lawyers does not mean those lawyers are available to your matter. There may be a lot of attorney bodies at a large law firm, but you do not necessarily have access to those minds. Attorneys may be assigned to certain partners, groups or matters, and may not have the time to work on other matters. Or, given a firm’s segmentation and structure, there may be additional reviews required before a lawyer may be approved to work on a case.
In contrast, at our firm, if a matter requires a certain attorney or certain practice knowledge, or all hands-on deck, we work together to get that done. There is a sense that every client is part of the broader whole, which is why we have at least bi-weekly meetings to discuss ongoing matters, status, and staffing needs. Oftentimes, our discussions lead to strategy or tactical suggestions, such as “I had a similar matter and we filed this motion.” Our clients access expertise with ease, and without barriers to the talent that best fits their matter. Through our regular discussions, we create an environment where each client is truly a client of the firm.
Small is mighty.